If you’re a fan of basketball in Central Louisiana, here’s a name you need to remember.
Cedric Russell.You can call him Ced, if you like.
But whatever you call him, just pay attention. He’s the next big thing in Cenla basketball.
Sure, 2014 may be the year of Aaron Epps and his Tioga Indians, but the future belongs to Ced, the 6-foot-2 freshman guard at Peabody who has emerged into a star quicker than perhaps any player in program history.
And we all know, that Peabody program has plenty of history.
I first heard about Ced last summer as he was creating a buzz on the AAU circuit. His travel team played at the CP3 Rising Stars camp in North Carolina, where Ced was ranked among the top 25 prospects in his class.
It’s one thing to dominate against junior high players. It’s another to translate that success onto the varsity level immediately in high school.
But Ced has done just that, even if the Peabody coaches have brought him along more slowly than maybe they needed to. Russell came off the bench at the start of the season until coach Charles Smith inserted him into the starting lineup right before district play began.
He’s not always “the guy” on this Peabody team. The Warhorses have other players who are capable, and Russell doesn’t always need to be the one shouldering the load (as evidenced by his two points against Grant on Tuesday).
But he’s the type of player who brings his A game when the lights are the brightest.
Early in the season, in a home game against Lakeview, one of the top teams in Class 2A and a team that opened the season with a home win over Peabody, Russell came off the bench to score a season-high 14 points in a 75-55 Warhorses win.
He scored 11 off the bench to avenge another loss in a 67-57 win over Washington-Marion — including two huge fourth-quarter 3-pointers to quell a Washington-Marion rally and turn the tide in favor of the Warhorses.
Then, of course, there was the absolute show he put on last week in Peabody’s 62-57 home loss against Tioga. The Indians won against Peabody for the first time in 20 years, but Ced made it a lot more difficult than it originally appeared.
Tioga led by 17 at the half, but the Warhorses rallied to within three points in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to Ced’s 25 points and four second-half 3-pointers.
When it’s crunch time, he steps up his game. As a freshman, he demands the ball on a team full of upperclassmen.
He caught the eye of a Baylor assistant sitting courtside. He’ll catch the eye of a lot more coaches and scouts over the next three years.
He also earned the respect of his opponents that night.
“He’s going to be something special. He grew up tonight,” Tioga coach Lance Brasher told my colleague Bob Tompkins after the game.
“He’s one of the finest guards in the league and he’s only a freshman,” Brasher added.
“He’s something right now,” said Tioga senior guard Martin Ramirez, himself one of the top guards in District 3-4A. “I’d be scared to play against him in a few years.”
It wasn’t that long ago that another Peabody freshman caught my eye. When I first watched Markel Brown play, I knew he was special. His athleticism was off the charts, and I’m not surprised a bit by the success he’s found at Oklahoma State.
But right now, Ced is a better player than Markel was at this stage. He’s not as athletic. He’s not as flashy. But he’s a better basketball player.
When I asked Smith prior to the season about the hype I’d been hearing surrounding Russell, he told me Ced was the best player at Peabody since Brown.
I think you need to go back a little further. Russell is a better player than Brown, and he might end up being the best player ever in school history (especially since that’s a moniker that Smith bestowed upon Brown).
Ced has a craftiness to his game that is hard to quantify. He’s not going to wow you with breathtaking dunks, but he has a silky smooth handle and a mid-range game that every young player should emulate.
“He’s a great kid, a tremendous athlete,” Smith said after the Tioga loss. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him. He’s a competitor, a gym rat — he’s in the gym constantly, and it paid off for him tonight. From the first time I saw him in junior high, something impressed me about his skills and his ability to score. As he gets older and matures, he’s going to be an outstanding player.”
I’d argue the phrase “going to be” should be taken out of that quote. Russell is already an outstanding player, and he’s only going to get better. He’s also the Warhorses’ best hope for a deep playoff run.
If I were Smith, I’d put the ball in the hands of my insanely talented freshman and tell everyone else to get out of the way. If the Warhorses are going to beat Tioga Friday night, and if they’re going to make a run to the Top 28 and a possible state title, it’s going to be their young guard who has to lead the way.